Tourist arrivals could reach 80-95% of pre-Covid levels this year, says UNWTO

By Luke Barras-hill |

International tourism recovered 63% of its pre-pandemic levels in 2022, with Europe and Middle East leading the pack.

Global international tourist numbers could rebound to 80-95% of 2019 levels this year, according to forecasts from the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Europe and the Middle East could be the beneficiaries of restored volumes, though UNWTO notes that tourists are expected to be on the hunt for value for money and travel closer to home due to the challenging economic environment.

The degree of the economic slowdown, ongoing recovery in Asia and the Pacific and the conflict in Ukraine, among other factors, will influence outcomes, adds UNWTO.

UNWTO brands the recent lifting of Covid-related travel restrictions in China – the globe’s foremost outbound market in 2019 – a ‘significant step’ in the recovery of tourism markets in Asia, Pacific and around the world.

“In the short term, the resumption of travel from China is likely to benefit Asian destinations in particular,” said UNWTO. “However, this will be shaped by the availability and cost of air travel, visa regulations and Covid-19 related restrictions in the destinations.”

Tourist receipts up

The organisation says that as of mid-January, 32 countries located mostly in Asia and Europe have imposed outbound travel restrictions on those travelling from China, a decision that has been criticised by the aviation sector.

On the other hand, healthy demand from the US linked to the strong dollar is tipped to continue benefitting destinations while Europe will sustain travel flows from the US, in part due to the weakened euro versus the US dollar.

Notable rises in international tourism receipts have been recorded across most destinations, notes UNWTO, in several instances higher than the growth in arrivals.

An increase in average spending per trip is linked to longer travel periods, a willingness to spend more at destination, and higher travel costs due to inflation.

International tourism is set to consolidate its recovery in 2023, backed by pent-up demand from Asia and the Pacific as destinations and markets reopen.

“However, the economic situation could translate into tourists adopting a more cautious attitude in 2023, with reduced spending, shorter trips and travel closer to home,” stated UNWTO.

“Furthermore, continued uncertainty caused by the Russian aggression against Ukraine and other mounting geopolitical tensions, as well as health challenges related to Covid-19 also represent downside risks and could weigh on tourism’s recovery in the months ahead.”

New data from the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer shows more than 900 million tourists travelled internationally in 2022 – double the number recorded in 2021 – but that figure remained 37% below that of 2019.

Each region recorded increases in international tourist numbers, with the Middle East enjoying the strongest arrivals performance of pre-pandemic numbers (83%).

Europe improved its standing (nearly 80%) of pre-pandemic levels with 585 million arrivals in 2022.

Africa and the Americas both recovered around two thirds (65%) of their their pre-pandemic visitors.

Asia and the Pacific recorded a more muted performance (23%), due to stronger pandemic-related restrictions that have only started to ease in recent months.

The first UNWTO World Tourism Barometer of 2023 also analyses performance by region and looks at top performers in 2022, including several destinations which have already recovered 2019 levels.

According to the latest UNWTO Confidence Index, there is a cautious optimism among travellers for January-April backed by the opening up of Asia and strong spending indicators in 2022 from both traditional and emerging tourism source markets, with France, Germany and Italy as well as Qatar, India and Saudi Arabia all posting strong results.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, added: “A new year brings more reason for optimism for global tourism. UNWTO anticipates a strong year for the sector even in the face of diverse challenges including the economic situation and continued geopolitical uncertainty. Economic factors may influence how people travel in 2023 and UNWTO expects demand for domestic and regional travel to remain strong and help drive the sector’s wider recovery.”

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